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Plant Genetic Resources and Their Conservation


Plant Genetic Resources (PGR) is the raw material used in plant breeding and crop research. As such it provides the basis of our food security; without access to PGR the ability to create new crop varieties will decrease and disappear. Therefore PGR needs to be conserved and made accessible.


PGR have evolved with all life on earth. Based on wild plants, early farmers selected the first crops about 10.000 years ago. This process is called domestication. The early crops were carried around the world where they slowly adapted to local environments and the needs of the farmers. It is only since one and a half century that science helped the farmers, via plant breeding, to obtain new homogeneous varieties that performed much better than the old traditional heterogeneous varieties. But they also required more inputs such as fertilizers, irrigation, pest control, etc.

Useful genes and traits

The result of evolution, domestication and plant breeding is a wide spectrum of genetic diversity with (potentially) useful genes and associated traits. These genes are used in plant breeding to create new varieties that can perform in the changing environments and that can meet the demands of farmers (less inputs, higher quality products, more yield), consumers (new products, higher quality products, lower price) and society (increased sustainability).

Conservation in genebanks

However, if society would not protect this indispensable diversity it would disappear. New varieties replace old varieties and crop related wild species are under similar threats as other wild plant species. Luckily, the danger of losing PGR was recognized in the sixties and measures were taken to conserve PGR in genebanks. These institutions collect old varieties and samples of wild populations, conserve them by drying, freezing and once in a while regenerating the seeds (there are also other methods). Genebanks also make the conserved PGR available to the ones using them in research and breeding. However, genebanks cannot do it alone. Their capacity is limited, and some crops are, for various reasons, not very suitable for conservation in genebanks.

Conservation in situ

Beside genebanks, PGR can also be found in various other places. The crop related wild species, which are poorly represented in genebanks, can obviously be found in nature. Many farmers and other knowledgeable enthusiasts grow old varieties to serve niche markets, or alternative varieties that do not require the level of inputs associated with modern agriculture. These resources are called in situ sources, as opposed to ex situ genebanks.


"Where genebanks were created to conserve and make PGR available to users, access to PGR conserved in situ is often problematic."  

Read more about it in the analysis that is presented below.

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